June 27, 2008

The Firestorm of ’08

Posted in blogging, photography tagged , , , , , , , at 7:42 pm by czygyny

Saturday, June 21, 2008. The year of the firestorm, the year that California burned mightily.

The day started out in a strange way, an early morning thunderstorm, dark, menacing clouds to the west, its skirts a roiling mass of odd updrafts, pokes and pulls of clouds like cotton batting pulled in puckers from above. The grumbling of thunder was echoing in the hills. We were all of uneasy anticipation, knowing that this could end up being a very bad thing.

With desiccated mountains, tinder dry hills and scorching temperatures, summer lightning is a bad omen, indeed. The promise of trouble was not left unfulfilled, trouble visited us and the whole state on that day.

I took a few pictures of the clouds, and then went to my Sabbath fellowship in town. While we sat in worship, the booming came closer, the flashes more intense. Rain and hail began to fall abundantly, the lights flickered. When it came time to leave the storm was overhead. As I made my way home, I drove around chunks of cedar, debarked and laying all over the road, a tree disintegrated by a direct hit!

Looking out over the bruised sky, I could see strike after strike, large, thick, bright bolts, sometimes striking three, four or five times around the same spot. Bolts of lightning came through the outskirts of the clouds, emanating from higher up in the main thunderheads and striking out of seemingly harmless thin clouds.

The storm pounded our area all day, the line of cumulonimbus never moving from their position. Now this was quite odd, because our thunderstorms usually are smaller and on the move, this garrison stood its ground and beat us with a fury.

I finally made it home, fearing the worst. All I could think of was the threat of hail. Hail does quick work of gardens and fruit trees, I’ve watched it in person, a thick dark wall approaches, the first white rocks of plant death bouncing like popcorn, growing in intensity until the roar of it fills the ears and strains the heart as it pummels hours of hard work to a pulp.

Hail! Sure enough it was on the move towards me, lightning striking closer and closer, the countdown going from nine, seven, three-second counts to instantaneous flash and crash. “Please, please let the hail and lightning pass me over!”I prayed, fervently. “Spare my hard work, my beautiful gardens!”
It was so! The hail stopped, the lightning withholding itself until it all passed over to the northeast. I was spared!

But, the fun had just begun. As the clouds passed on, and the evening approached, you could see fires dotted all over the hills and mountains. Rough, rugged, steep terrain, with the grey plumes of smoke rising in the reddening sunset, the evil just beginning. The next day, the fires had spread exponentially, and the news telling us that the state all over was burning.

The smoke has smothered us all week, thick, acrid smoke of a thousand bushes and trees. Ash began falling on the cars and lawn, delicate, intricate ghosts of perfect manzanita leaves that turned to powder at a touch. How could something so ephemeral float some twenty miles away in entirety? The north wind came up yesterday, just enough to reveal the ever encroaching line of fire, and allowing the air tankers the green light to begin casting red Firetrol on the front lines of defense.

At night we can see the fires burning, torches that seemingly float in the night sky, revealing the slope of the mountains, here and there a tree flares up, glowing orange and uplighting the smoke reaching away from the fireline. It is fascinating and frightening all at the same time, a sober reminder of what lies just over the hills.

So far, few homes have been lost, but all it will take is a turn in the wind, a careless cigarette, an inattentive driver to make it all worse. Resources are stretched thin, air attacks can’t be made in zero visibility, people wait in anticipation and anxiety for the evacuation calls.

Let us pray that weather and wind will be a blessing, that homes will be spared, that lives will not be lost and that the firestorm of 2008 becomes a quick if not enduring memory on the collective minds of our communities.